A friend of mine was facing circumstances that seemed insurmountable. She cried out, “I have no freedom anymore.” Trying to reassure her, I replied, “You still have freedom of spirit.” She asked me how that could be. I explained that in spite of what was happening, she had the freedom to think a better thought and create a more positive energy, but she didn’t understand. Her spirit, that essential nature of beauty and bliss within her, was too covered with pain and trauma from her childhood. Because she couldn’t bear to look at her inner pain, she couldn’t get past the pain to that deeper being, her spirit.
Yet I have learned that pain is my friend. It leads me to where the hurt is so that I may heal it. Poet Rainer Maria Rilke wrote, “Why should you want to exclude any anxiety, any grief, any melancholy from your life, since you do not know what it is that these conditions are accomplishing in you?”
When we run from pain, the source of it doesn’t go away, but hides in the deep places, waiting. As my friend Shirlee says, “Whatever in you needs to be healed, God will keep bringing it to the surface, like a bobber on a fishing line.” My willingness to look into my painful issues rose in response to my teacher’s directive, “If it comes to your attention, it needs your attention.” When outer circumstances bring inner pain to our attention, we have the opportunity to set ourselves free from what is troubling us.
How do we do set ourselves free from old wounds? We can use emotional pain to (1) identify what idea (or personal myth) is causing the pain and (2) examine our part in creating the circumstance that brought the pain to the surface and thereby begin the healing process.
My 50th birthday was filled with emotional pain that provided opportunities for healing. I was cast for a second appearance on a TV series on my birthday. The AD (assistant director) phoned with an 8AM call time in San Diego, two hours from my home. I only had two short scenes and thought, Great! With such an early start, I’ll be back in the evening to celebrate my birthday. I mentioned to him that I would do my own makeup. I had decided to do that because in the first episode, the lighting had been unflattering, and I knew a few makeup tricks that would help me look my best if it happened again. Shortly after I arrived in San Diego, there was a knock on my trailer door. There stood the head of the makeup department who had done my makeup for the first episode. “I understand you want to do your own makeup. Why is that?” she demanded. Oops. Confrontation. Not my forte.
I started a verbal tap dance. “It’s not anything you did wrong, believe me, it’s just that I saw the last show and I wasn’t happy with the way I looked. There was nothing wrong with the makeup. It’s that the camera angles and the lighting were very harsh, and there were shots where I looked grotesque.” I topped it off with an apologetic little laugh, like “ha-ha, I looked grotesque, isn’t that humorous?” She and I commiserated about how little time they have for lighting, and I told her I would check with her when I was finished applying my makeup. We parted pleasantly.
A few minutes later the AD informed me there was rain forecast for the afternoon and they would shoot the outdoor scenes first. It wasn’t until three in the afternoon that they filmed my first scene. As I walked past the makeup lady, I heard her comment “if some people around here weren’t such a b****.” Her words spread cold chills around my heart. I knew she was talking about me, but why?
Later in the makeup trailer, she was rude to me in response to a question I asked. By the time I got to my dressing room, I was sobbing, anguish pouring from me in the soft, high voice of a child, “I’m not stupid. I’m not a bad person. I’m not stupid. I’m not a bad person. I’m a good person. I try to be a good person. I’m not stupid.” What a surprise! After the years I’d spent mending my wounded sense of self, it was still there: little Gloria’s secret - that she’s stupid and bad, that she will never be good enough.
I dried my eyes, gathered my courage, and went back to the makeup trailer. I wanted to understand what was going on. She turned to me with fire in her eyes, ready for battle. Holding back tears, I talked to her until I got to the source of the venom. She spit out the words, “You said my makeup job made you look grotesque.”
I reminded her of our morning conversation, of how we discussed the harshness of the lighting. She finally conceded, “Yes, that was what was said.” I assured her again that I never said anything derogatory about how she made me look. (A friend told me she couldn’t believe someone would be rude to a celebrity/actress on a set. Obviously my friend has never worked on a set! An actress at “Days Of Our Lives” threw a trashcan in my general direction for an imagined slight. Luckily, she missed.)
Identifying the Painful Idea
Discovering my painful idea wasn’t too difficult. I kept repeating my defense of it like a mantra, “I’m not stupid. I’m not a bad person.” I was countering a painful childhood belief that I’m stupid and bad. Being attacked for something I didn’t do brought it to the surface. This is often the case. A verbal attack, a loss, a circumstance, even a slight will bring up one of these personal myths: I’m all alone, I’m not safe, no one can love me, I’m not good enough and so on. The myth often gets repeated with tears and/or anger. We’re fighting a battle, pleading a case that happened long ago. Once we recognize it as an unfortunate myth, we can attend to its undoing and get closer to the freedom of spirit that is our birthright.
There’s the story of the young boy shoveling into a big pile of horse manure. His father asks him what he’s doing. “Dad,” he says, “with this much poop, there has to be a pony in here somewhere.” I knew there was pony somewhere in the pile of poop that had become my birthday, and I actually figured out how to be grateful for what had happened. I don’t want you to think this gratitude came all at once. For days, I tried to blame her, How could she? Who does she think she is? I didn’t do anything to deserve.... my “woe-is-me, I’m the victim, he/she is the bad guy” byline, but blaming her would not restore my peace of mind.
Examining The Part I Played
Marcel Proust said, “Grief, when it turns into ideas, loses some of its power to injure our hearts.” The key to restoring peace of mind is knowing where to look. The true cause of my upset was not what she said, but what she reminded me of - the personal myth I held about myself: I’m not good enough. This idea was within me, and that was where I had to look to restore my peace of mind. Otherwise I’d be like Nasruddin, a popular character in the Middle East, who lost his ring in the basement of his house. He was under the streetlight looking for it. His neighbor inquired, "What are you looking for, Nasruddin? Have you lost something?"
"Yes,” Nasruddin replied, “I lost my ring down in the basement."
"Why don't you look for it in the basement where you have lost it?" asked the neighbor.
"Because the light’s better out here!" Nasruddin replied.
It’s always easier to shine the spotlight of blame on someone else. Less frequently do we want to peer into our own darkness to see how we contributed to the mess, hence the old saying, “Clean your face instead of blaming the mirror.” If I was going to avoid being broadsided by another such incident, I knew I had to take responsibility for my part in creating the ugliness with the makeup lady.
As I examined the exchanges between us, I saw that she and I had similar personal myths: I’m not good enough. We each looked for, expected, and found reminders of our unworthiness. Like two interlocking pieces of a puzzle, we each had an opposing strategy: hers was offensive, mine was defensive. She got to be angry, I got to be hurt... once again.
She heard my conciliatory tap dance as an attack on her work, because I gave her ammunition by using the word “grotesque!” I didn’t know back then that you never give an insecure person verbal ammunition she might take personally.
And I hadn’t listened to and decoded my uneasiness around her. When I first worked with her, she had been pleasant, but I must have intuitively recognized the anger that prowled below her surface, because as I drove to San Diego, I rehearsed all the excuses I’d offer to placate her. Because I was afraid of her, I overdid it. I said too much. I treated her as if she were a trusted confidant (big mistake), using a “just between you and me” posture to place the blame elsewhere, even using the word “grotesque” to heighten that effect. If I had simply said, “It’s my birthday and I feel like doing my own makeup this morning,” her verbal attacks would not have happened. Yet there was no reason to beat myself up. I uncovered the vestiges of painful internal messages, so that I could divest them of their lingering power, and that was a good thing!
I didn’t get home until 10PM that night and missed celebrating my birthday in the way I had planned, but it was still one of the best birthdays I can remember. During my twelve hours on the set, I read Neale Donald Walsh’s Conversations with God from cover to cover. As I completed it, tears washed my face, tears of joy as I felt the enormous love and compassion that exists for us, within us. And, when I got home, a birthday card was waiting for me - from my former husband. In it he expressed appreciation for what had been, for who I had been to him, and regret for any hurt he had caused. When we had divorced ten years earlier, there had been some hard moments. His words erased all that. Big sissy that I am, I cried big tears, (again!) and said, “Thank you for this day.”
In one swooping day, I experienced the truth of Pierre Teilhard De Chardin’s words, “Not everything is good, but everything is capable of becoming good.” That day taught me to look for and expect that there may be good from anything that comes my way. That is spiritual freedom.
(This material is drawn from my newly completed book, Coincidence Is God’s Way of Remaining Anonymous, a spiritual autobiography about a series of extraordinary coincidences that transformed my life. It was published online in Kinetics Magazine, http://www.kineticsmag.com/.)